Short Story Discussion: “The Story of an Hour”
Author Introduction: Kate Chopin
Katherine O’Flaherty was born
February 8, 1851, in St. Louis.
Her father was an Irish merchant
and her mother was the daughter
of an old French family. Chopin’s
early fluency with French and
English, and her roots in two
different cultures, were important
throughout her life.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Edited by
Margaret Culley. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976.
Kate’s father was killed in a train
accident in 1855 (the imagined
effect on her mother was later
depicted in “The Story of an
At the age of eighteen, Kate was
known as one of St. Louis’
prettiest and most popular. Her
diary, however, shows that the
stress of the social pressures to
be feminine pushed against her
passion to read her favorites:
Victor Hugo, Dante, Molière, Jane
Austen, and Henry Wadsworth
Marriage, Family, and Money
At twenty, Kate married Oscar
Chopin, a young,
Kate gave birth to five sons
and a daughter. Important
themes in her fiction include
motherhood’s joys and
demands, as well as societal
restraints on women.
Her husband, worn down by
financial worries, died in 1882,
leaving Kate with a huge debt
and six children to raise
The death of her husband, and soon after, her mother,
and her own unconventional ideas demanded that she
make her own way. She started her first short story in
1888, and became a published author in 1889 when her
poem “If It Might Be” appeared in the journal America.
Her stories and sketches from this early period show that
she questioned traditional romance. “Wiser Than a God”
depicts a woman who chooses a career as pianist over
marriage. Other stories portray a suffragist and a
professional woman who try to determine their own lives.
Chopin’s friends during this period included “New
Women”—single working women, suffragists, and
intellectuals—who doubtless influenced her previously
private questioning of women’s role in society.
Kate Chopin’s reputation as a writer faded soon after her death.
Her 1899 novel, The Awakening, was out of print for 50 years.
By the late 1960’s, however, Norwegian writer Per Seyersted
rediscovered Chopin and edited The Complete Works and a
critical biography in 1969. Chopin’s reputation blossomed, and
her novel is considered a classic, taught in university literature
and women’s studies courses. Largely through the attention of
scholars and critics, Chopin’s work has enjoyed a renaissance.
Her writing illustrates a variety of feminist concerns: the clash
between individual freedom and social duty; the stifling quality
of unequal marriage; the hypocrisy of the sexual double
standard; women’s desire for creativity and independence.
Historical Content: The
"The Story of an Hour" was published in 1894, an era in
which many social and cultural questions occupied
Americans' minds. One of these, referred to as the "Woman
Question," involved which roles were acceptable for women
to assume in society. Charles Darwin's The Origin of
Species (1892) had further incited this controversy.
Darwin's theory of evolution was used by both sides of the
issue; some argued the theory supported female self-
assertion and independence, others felt the theory proved
that motherhood should be the primary role of a woman in
Though not granted the right to vote until 1920, women
began struggle for their enfranchisement Seneca Falls,
NY in 1848. In 1869, the 15th Amendment granted
suffrage to black men. Several prominent feminists,
including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,
refused to support the amendment because it denied
women the vote. Others argued that women’s rights
would soon follow black enfranchisement. In 1890, the
two groups united to form the National American Woman
Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
The suffrage movement sought reform, yet mainstream
Victorian culture still supported the self-sacrificing wife,
dependent on her husband and devoted to her family, as
the ideal of femininity.
“The Story of an Hour” is told
from a detached, third-person
limited point of view through
Louise, the only character
whose thoughts are accessible.
At the beginning of the story,
Louise is unable to consider her
own position in the world. As she
becomes aware of her emotions
and new situation, the reader
gains access to her thinking,
and therefore, her character. At
the end of the story, the reader
is abruptly cut off from her
thoughts, as Chopin
manipulates the narrative point
of view to underscore the theme
of the story.
Chopin does not offer many clues as to where or when the
action of the story takes place, other than in the Mallard's
house. This general setting supports the theme of
commonly accepted views of the appropriate roles for
women in society. Given Chopin's other works and the
concerns she expresses about women's role in marriage in
this story and in other writings, the reader can assume that
the story takes place during Chopin's lifetime, the late
nineteenth century. However, Chopin was known for being
a local colorist, a writer who focuses on a particular people
in a particular locale. In Chopin's case, her stories are
usually set among the Cajun and Creole societies in
Louisiana. For this reason, "The Story of an Hour" is
usually assumed to take place in Louisiana.
Chopin uses irony, a technique that
reveals the distance between what
appears to be true and what is
actually true, to conclude her story.
In ''The Story of an Hour," there is
incongruity between what is
understood to be true by the
characters within the drama and
what is understood by the reader.
What killed Mrs. Mallard? While
Brently Mallard, Richards,
Josephine, and the doctors might
weak heart gave out upon such sudden happiness, readers are
led to suspect that sudden grief killed her. At the story's
conclusion, the story's first line, "Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was
afflicted with a heart trouble," becomes ironic—referring to Mrs.
Mallard's spiritual condition and not to a medical condition. The
story's concluding line, she died "from the joy that kills," is also
Q: What’s the theme in this short story?
Q: What does it mean for Mrs. Mallard to “die
of heart disease–of the joy that kills?”
Q: Does/did Mrs. Mallard love her husband?
1. Discuss Mrs. Mallard as a sympathetic
character or as a cruel and selfish character.
How might your own gender, age, class or
ethnicity influence your response?
I feel it is difficult to interpret whether Louise was
cold-hearted as she may have been described
through her thoughts and actions.
While reading this short story, Mrs. Mallard struck me
not as cruel, but actually selfish.
Is Louise a true, selfish, or traumatized character?
Do you think Chopin's critique of the
institution of marriage, as expressed by
Louise, is applicable today?
1. Q: Who is Mrs. Mallard and what does she tell us about
a social view of not only women but of marriage?
2. Q: What is the significance of the name “Mallard” in
“The Story of an Hour?”
Discuss the story through one
Read : “A Very Old Man with Enormous
Post #16: Choose one
Speculate on the identity of the “old
How does the manner in which
Garcia Marquez treats the traditional
idea of angels in "A Very Old Man
with Enormous Wings" compare with
the way angels are represented or
interpreted elsewhere, in some other
work or media?
Speculate on how you might apply an
extrinsic critical lens to this story. Use
textual evidence to support your
Discuss trauma in the story. Who
suffers it? How and why?